During March, my friend Raechel and I checked a few things off our bucket list: England, Scotland, and Ireland. We spent two weeks trekking around those three, beautiful countries, and had a ball!
While we didn’t get to do everything, little thing we wanted to, we sure covered a lot of ground. In fact, we covered more than 200,000 steps! And because he locale was so action-packed, I wanted to break them down country-by-country for you over the next, few posts.
I hope this information will help you if you make the trip yourself sometime, and please let me know if you have any questions!
- I live in Atlanta and Raechel lives in Chicago, so we met up in NYC and flew out from there. Since our layover was about six hours, we used our Delta AMEX cards to hang out in the lounge for $30, a great deal and space to pass the time, especially because we could eat dinner in there as part of the price.
- Our flight was overnight, and went by relatively well because we were in Delta Comfort seats. The bad part was that I slept through breakfast, and it took a long time to get through customs, so my blood sugar dropped and I felt terrible. So, we had to stop and eat in the airport rather than keep moving, and this cost us some time. But we tried the English Breakfast for the first time…and my last. Too much food, too much meat, too salty for me.
- We used the London Pass for most of our activities since it’s such a good deal, and it even includes the Underground from the airport to city center. However, it didn’t include the express route, so it took over two hours to get to our hotel. Bummer. So, we didn’t get as much done on this day as we’d hoped. I’d pay for the Express train next time since it was more like 40 minutes, I think.
- Our first night was spent at Harry Potter and The Cursed Child! Really fun show, and as big HP fans, we were delighted to be there. The only issue was that we were so tired, and it was incredibly hard to stay awake! Dinner was at a quick, nearby cafe, and we had our first (of many) pots of tea. I’m an Earl Grey addict now.
- We stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton London – Islington, and it was a decent location since it’s only a couple of minutes walk from Angel Station. Would’ve been nicer to stay by King’s Cross Station, since it’s like Grand Central and connects everywhere, but this was only one stop away from that, so it just cost us a few extra minutes each time to get to where we needed to be.
- Normally, I don’t eat or drink at chain restaurants when I travel, but we needed a good, but quick breakfast to start our day, so we went to Starbucks. Um, it was awesome! I wish they carried the same items here! We got this thick bread with dried fruit in it, and these eggs with grains, greens, and tomatoes. Just what we needed to fuel us for the day.
- Since we had to connect via King’s Cross, we stopped by the Platform 9 3/4 store to peruse the wares, and grab some photos and post cards. (Note: The photo opp area is pretty packed most of the time, so we opted to get similar photos on the studio tour rather than the station.)
- Sadly, we ended up with a lot of bad weather on the entire trip. When we booked the trip six weeks earlier, the normal average was low 50s. However, they got a big snow storm right before we landed, which was unusual for them. This meant we mostly saw snow flurries and 30s and 40s in England (and lower!). So, our day was mostly spent on the hop on, hop off bus looking at London through snow-covered windows. We hopped off and looked around the Trafalgar Square area for a few minutes, but the wind was howling and it was just too cold to stay outside.
- After being on the bus all day, we grabbed a fantastic dinner at Cote Brasserie, which had been recommended by a friend. Everything was great, but the chocolate mousse was utterly exceptional!
- That night we saw part two of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child. Yep, it’s a two-part play. This is awesome because the story isn’t rushed, and we sat by the same, adorable Welsh couple on the second night as well. The bad news is, of course, it takes up two nights. (You can do consecutive day shows on Saturday.) They did a great job with the play, and it’s really fun to see all the fans get into it. There weren’t actually that many kids there! The pair from Wales were senior citizens, so it just goes to show that HP has fans of all kinds!
- We’re on day three of the London Pass at this point, and we began our morning at Shakespeare’s Globe, a replica of the original. I loved being able to see it in person, and the only reason we didn’t attend a performance there was that it’s an open air theatre…so, snow.
- We went next door to the Swan for brunch, and it was beautiful and delicious. I wish we would’ve been around for the Midsummer’s Nights Tea (so cute!), but our meal was still lovely. It was also not breaded and/or fried, and even came with a side salad!
- Afterward we took a stroll over the Millennium Bridge and made our way to the Parliament Building, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately, Big Ben was undergoing renovations and I could only see the clock face. Westminster Abbey was also closed at the time, so we just milled around the exterior for a few minutes.
- Next up was the London Eye. Again, not great weather for us, so there was a lot of that famous London fog. But it was still fun—and just had to be done! (Note: Definitely worth paying for the skip the line entry to save time! We walked right on rather than standing in line for an hour or so.)
- On to Kensington Palace for a gander at living like a royal. It was interesting to see, and they even had Princess Diana’s gowns on exhibit. I enjoyed learning more about her through the clothes she wore, who and how she promoted designers, and how they played a role in her charity work. The gift shop/cafe is also pretty good, and I now regret not picking up a couple of things there that you can’t find anywhere else.
- We headed back to West End for dinner at The Porcupine, which was really good. This was our first time eating fish and chips…and mushy peas, another staple. They were good, but nothing to write home about (other than this blog). However, the sticky toffee pudding was out of this world! It’s worth going just for this dish, and I’m still drooling at the memory of it. I got mine with a side of vanilla custard.
- After dinner, I drug Raechel back to the theatre one more time for The Mousetrap, which was recommended by another friend. This show is a fun whodunit by Agatha Christie, and entering it’s 66th year, is the longest running show in the world! Plus, it’s probably the cheapest show in London at only $25. A great deal!
- We headed out of the city for the first time—to the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio! Yes, it’ll look more and more like our trip was sponsored by HP as we go, but sadly, it wasn’t. The studio is about an hour from the city, and is utterly fan-tastic! It was so much fun to see where the movies were made and all the props. And, of course, Butterbeer and Butterbeer ice cream! (For my Orlando park tips, click here.)
- The great thing about the HP studio tour is that it wraps up mid-afternoon, so there’s still plenty of time for the sites after. So, we headed over to Buckingham Palace for a quick look around. We also tried to swing back by Westminster Abbey so I could see William Wilberforce’s grave, but it was Sunday and they closed to the public early.
- At this point, we headed over to Harrod’s for tea. Womp womp. By the time we arrived, there was a long line and we wouldn’t get in before they closed. So, we just looked around the store for a little bit—I wasn’t impressed. It’s hard to navigate, expensive, and very compartmentalized like the flagship Bloomingdale’s. But I’m sad we didn’t get to have tea there.
- So, what else was on the menu while in London? Indian food, of course! Yelp directed us to a highly-rated nearby spot, Haandi. Outside of India, it was the most delicious and authentic Indian meal I’ve had. Amazing.
- Finally, it was back to the hotel, but not before a quick pitstop to pick up some Epsom salt for our sore feet! And an earlier night to bed, which was nice.
- Excursion link on Viator – We liked this one because it was first thing in the morning, and the place got really crowded by lunchtime. It was also nice to have the late afternoon and evening free.
- Even though there are so many wonderful things to do in London, we also wanted to experience more of the country while were were there. So, on this day we ventured a few hours out of the city.
- First up was Warwick Castle. It was beautiful and traditional, and they have wonderfully restored it to give you a glimpse at what life was like over hundreds of years. We also had our first day of beautiful weather!
- Next up was Stratford-Upon-Avon, which was a priority for me since it was the birthplace of the Bard. Such a cute, little town! We saw the home where he was born, the church were he was baptized/married/buried, and even some Shakespeare being performed by his childhood home and randomly on the street. They absolutely love their native son, and it’s hard to pass a block without some reference to him.
- From there, it was on to Oxford. Our tour guide gave us an hour-long walking tour, but it rained pretty heavily our entire time there, so the other hour was just spent sipping coffee and chatting about our trip highlights and plans. But it was a beautiful town, and like all the other places, I’d like to go back.
- For dinner, we stuck close to the hotel. But dinner at The Castle Islington didn’t disappoint. One of the other popular, English dishes we wanted to try were meat pies, and these were super yummy! A great end to our day—and a quick walk across the street back to our hotel. #win
- Day trip link on Viator – There are LOTS of castles to choose from in England, but Warwick ended up being good, and mostly, it paired up with Stratford-Upon-Avon and Oxford, which were on our To Do List. Driving through the gorgeous Cotswolds was also a real treat.
- Stonehenge! Yep, we made it out there. It was crazy to see up-close—and so close to the road! There is so much lore, superstition, and history to the spot, and that made it fun to explore. Overall, there really isn’t a lot to see, but you wouldn’t know that from all the photos we took!
- On to Bath, which was an absolute highlight. It’s a gorgeous city, and popular for those on holiday, as well as BBC filming. Our main task here, especially since it had evaded us so far, was afternoon tea. (Note: high tea actually takes place early evening with dinner a few hours later.) My friend, Holly, told us to make reservations at the Pump Room, which was the most well-known spot for afternoon tea in Bath. It was absolutely incredible! Everything was adorable, delicious, and perfect! Not only that, but because we were there just a few days before Raechel’s birthday, I made note of that in the reservations. So, we celebrated with a glass of champagne to start and a free (and enormous) cupcake to end. They also played happy birthday on the piano and everyone in the place sang and clapped. It was so much fun, and one of the things we talked about over and over.
- We only had a couple of hours in Bath, and most of that was happily spent at the Pump Room. So, for the latter part of our free time, we just walked around and took in the city. We also quickly stopped by the Jane Austen museum gift shop. I wish we could’ve done the museum tour but there was no time. But since I was listening to Pride and Prejudice on Audible on the trip, this was a fun detour.
- This was our last night in England, so we made some time to pick up souvenirs, which for me, meant tea. We stopped by St. Pancras Station, which is across from King’s Cross, and much more beautiful. I picked up tea and champagne truffles from Fortnum & Mason, and those ended up being great choices. There are also a lot of great food and shopping options here, and I wish we had more time to explore them.
- Another item on our culinary checklist (<– it was long) was the Cornish Pasty, which we picked up in King’s Cross station for dinner. It was really delicious, but like most everything else there, full of meat and carbs, ha! Veggies were hard to come by on this trip.
- Day trip link on Viator – Wish we’d had more time in Bath, but these two sites were a great pairing and on our “must see” list.
You can check out all the trip photos here.
- I really wanted to take in the theatre scene in London, but man, it was hard to make it through that first night’s performance! We were so busy every day, that sitting in a quiet theatre each night was tough anyway, but that first night was especially hard.
- A number of things close early like restaurants and attractions, so double-check this stuff when planning. For example, the Harrod’s tea room closed at 5:00 p.m.
- I fell in love with Marks & Spence (or M&S) stores. They’re sort of like a Whole Foods. We picked up a lot of our snacks and breakfasts here. If you’d like some food souvenirs, this would also be a cheaper place to buy them than at a more gift shop type place.
- If you don’t want to plan ahead as much, the tour guides on the hop on, hop off buses also sell tickets to a lot of the attractions.
- Even though we were in London most of the time, we did use cash now and again, so it’s good to have some handy.
- We really only had three days in London, and could’ve easily spent twice that long. There was still so much to see and do, especially given we lost a lot of time due to the weather. I didn’t get to do any museums, and everything took longer to get to via bus/Underground. It all just eats away at precious time.
- I always recommend the hop on, hop off buses when visiting new, large cities because it helps you take note of where everything is and helps you group sites together. (Read more here.) However, because London is so large, we could’ve literally done that for a day and a half or two days because of the different routes and their lengths of time. It was a little trickier here than I’ve done in other cities for that reason.
- Do yourself a favor and try the clotted cream. If ice cream weren’t cold, it would be clotted cream. It’s sooooo delicious, and is super yummy on scones. And, evidently, there’s a debate with clotted cream, much like adding milk to your tea or not. (I don’t, but Raechel does.) The question is if you put the jam on your scone before or after the clotted cream. I was recently asked this during a podcast interview by a guy in England. Who knew! I put my cc on first, by the way.
GENERAL TRIP NOTES AND ADVICE:
- It took me a long time to find this site (like a year and a half), but we booked our trip through TripMasters. This lovely site allows you to choose exactly how many nights you’d like in each country (worldwide), in what order, and your mode of transportation as well. It also gives you the opportunity to bundle your hotel and activities. You can go with the cheapest hotels or even upgrade to nicer ones. We got a great deal, and I definitely recommend using this site if you don’t want to book everything separately.
- These Clarks Cloudsteppers were my saving grace on this trip! I wore them most of the two weeks, and they made all the walking so much easier. I did end up with a couple of blisters, but they weren’t bad, and didn’t hurt while wearing these babies.
- I love using Viator for trip activities and excursions. The app also allows you to keep vouchers there rather than printing them.
- It depends how you like to travel, but we both liked being active and on the go. So, most lunches were just snacks we picked up or packed. Then, we’d stop and have nicer dinners.
- As you can already tell from this post, Raechel and I are planners. So, we had a Google Sheet set up with what were doing each day and time, along with links and reservation numbers, track expenses, etc. This helped us maximize our time really well, and was awesome since we were planning a lot over email and phone while living in different cities.
- Raechel had international data through her work phone, which served us VERY well. Otherwise, we were going to use AT&T’s international day pass, and just trade off days to split the costs.
- Unfortunately for me, most places didn’t take AMEX (which was all I carried), so Raechel paid for a lot of the little stuff like meals, and I bought the big, online things like tours with my card to balance us out.
- When we weren’t using the hop on, hop off bus or Underground (which was the vast majority of the time because Raechel is awesome at navigation), we used Uber. I would’ve definitely preferred Lyft, but it’s not in other countries yet. You can, of course, take the adorable taxis but I just love the ease of ride share apps, payments, tips, and splitting fares. (Use my link for an introductory discount.)
- I got a head cold at the end of the week, and wish I would’ve brought cold meds, aspirin, etc, with me. I found all those things there, of course, but most everything comes in packs of 16 tablets, and you can only get two packs at a time…so, I made multiple trips in all three countries.
MY TRAVEL NECESSITIES:
- We tried out these foot hammocks for the international flights. They may seem and look silly, and let’s face it, they are, but they made sleeping on the intercontinental flights a bit easier. We also had Delta Comfort seats, so we had more leg room. I was too tall to use them in the cheap seats, since my knees almost hit the seat in front of me, but Raechel is shorter, and used them in both spots successfully.
- I travel with a number of doTerra essential oils, but for active trips, I especially recommend the Deep Blue Samples. These little gems are like Icy Hot, but better, and are fantastic at the end of the day on your feet or back.
- I do not like hand sanitizer because it makes my hands feel sticky and gross. But I found these alcohol-free Babyganics wipes before my trip to India and now carry them with me everywhere. These make my hands feel clean and not sticky, and are great for travel and on the go—baby or not.
- One of my friends who is a travel writer gave me this tip, and it’s a good one. Whether it’s blistering hot (hello, India!) or a beautiful day (hello, LA!), carrying electrolyte tabs or powder is a great idea to keep you replenished.
- I don’t go anywhere without wrinkle release, because I hate ironing. And on international trips, I wasn’t sure what the iron situation would be anyway.
- Love my Envirosax! I keep several in my purse at all times, but I also take them when traveling because they always come in handy. I even use the pouch they come in on trips for cords and things.
- These Tide sink packets are great for short trip emergencies or long trips when you can’t access laundry facilities or don’t want to pay for them.
- This silicone flat iron pouch is good for when you have limited counter space and need to rest a flat iron or curling iron on the floor or another surface.
- We ended up buying a small bag of Epsom salt in country for our achy feet, but next time I’ll just take these travel packs.
- For adapters and travel cords, I’ve had great luck with these options: this Belkin block is good for home and travel, this little Monster stays in my laptop bag at all times, and this Maxah universal plug has gone with me to five countries so far.
- Sadly, my portable charger isn’t available any longer, but I prefer one like this that can charge different kinds of devices at once.
- I do a cleanse about three times per year or so, but especially after extensive travel or when food quality has been bad (hear: fried carbs). This is a good option for newbies and is more gentle on your system, but I’ve used many kinds by this brand.
Because our families are both originally from the UK and Ireland (way, way back), Raechel and I both asked for Ancestry DNA kits for Christmas so we could get our results before the trip. That made our time even more fun and interesting, and we were on the lookout for our family’s last names and traces every where we went.
For the record, I’m 44% British, 37% Ireland/Scotland/Wales, as well as a little of this and that. But, really, you could just look at me and figure that out. 😉
Next up: Scotland!
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